Halldor Kolbeins / AFP via Getty Images
As many people envision a future in which they do not need to travel to offices, the idea of working less also has its appeal.
Now, investigation outside iceland has found that working fewer hours for the same pay improved workers’ well-being, without loss of productivity. In fact, in some places, workers were more productive after cutting their hours.
Of course, Iceland is small. Its total workforce amounts to about 200,000 people. But 86% of Iceland’s entire workforce has either moved to shorter hours or have the right to negotiate such hours, according to the Association for Democracy and Sustainability and the think tank Autonomy. This follows two successful trials involving 2,500 workers.
The trials were carried out from 2015 to 2019. The workers went from a 40-hour-a-week schedule to a 35- or 36-hour-a-week schedule with no reduction in pay. The lawsuits began after unrest by unions and grassroots organizations that pointed to Iceland’s low ranking among its Scandinavian neighbors when it came to work-life balance.
Workers from a variety of public and private sector jobs participated in the trials. Among them were people who worked in daycare and assisted living facilities, hospitals, museums, police stations and government offices in Reykjavik.
Participants reported how they reduced their hours. A common approach was to make the meetings shorter and more focused. One workplace decided that meetings could only be scheduled before 3pm. Others replaced them entirely with email or other electronic correspondence.
Some workers started their shifts sooner or later, depending on the lawsuit. For example, in a daycare, the staff took turns leaving early when the children went home. Offices with regular business hours shortened those hours, while some services moved online.
Some coffee breaks were shortened or removed. The promise of a shorter work week led people to organize their time and delegate tasks more efficiently, the study found.
Working fewer hours resulted in people feeling more energetic and less stressed. They spent more time exercising and seeing friends, which later had a positive effect on their work, they said.
One worker cited in the research cited increased respect for the individual as a motivating factor. Rather than being seen as machines that run around the clock, it was recognized that workers have desires and private lives, families and hobbies.